Elon Musk warns SpaceX faces ‘genuine risk of bankruptcy’

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Elon Musk warned SpaceX employees that the firm could face a possible bankruptcy if it doesn’t make progress on developing the Raptor engines designed to power its Starship rocket.

Starship is the spacecraft that SpaceX intends to use to send humans and cargo to the Moon as well as Mars.

Musk fired off an urgent companywide e-mail on Friday in which he described the “Raptor production crisis” as a “disaster” which was “much worse than it seemed a few weeks ago.”

The firm has so far conducted several short test flights of its prototype from its Texas facility. But in order to send Starship into orbit, it will need as many as 39 Raptor engines on each spacecraft – requiring employees to significantly ramp up production.

“We face genuine risk of bankruptcy if we cannot achieve a Starship flight rate of at least once every two weeks next year,” the SpaceX boss wrote in the e-mail, which was first reported by Space Explored.

Musk’s dire e-mail comes less than two weeks after he told the National Academies that SpaceX is planning to send its Starship rocket into orbit from its Boca Chica, Texas, site in January.

Falcon 9 rocket
SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets are partially reusable.
Getty Images

Musk told his employees that he had initially planned to take the long Thanksgiving holiday off. But when he realized just how bad the situation was with the Raptor engine, he changed course and worked through Friday night and into the weekend.

“We need all hands on deck to recover from what is, quite frankly, a disaster,” Musk wrote.

Earlier this month, SpaceX was rocked by the departure of Will Heltsley, the vice president of propulsion. Before leaving the company, Heltsley was removed from its Raptor development line, according to CNBC.

Musk wrote in his e-mail that SpaceX executives who looked closer into the problems plaguing production of the Raptor engines found them to be “far more severe” than initially thought.

Musk said earlier this month that he wasn’t certain if Starship could successfully reach orbit on its first try. But he said that he was “confident” the rocket will reach space sometime in 2022. Musk also said that “at least 90 percent” of the Starship development was “internally funded thus far.”

SpaceX aims to make both the Starship spacecraft and its rockets and booster fully reusable. Its current line of Falcon 9 rockets are just partially reusable. While the booster and land and re-launch, the upper portion of the rocket cannot be reused.

SpaceX, which employs 7,000 people, is estimated to be worth over $100 billion. It recently won a $2.9 billion contract from NASA to develop a lunar lander that could carry astronauts to the moon.

SpaceX beat out Jeff Bezos’ competing outfit Blue Origin, which failed in its legal effort to block the contract. Bezos and Musk are also battling it out in the satellite internet space, which will offer high-speed internet connections to customers from low orbit.

SpaceX has so far launched 1,700 Starlink satellites into orbit. Thus far it has attracted 140,000 userss who pay $99 per month. Amazon, the online retailer founded by Bezos, is preparing to launch prototype satellites from Project Kuiper in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Amazon said it hopes to have 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit at a cost of $10 billion.

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